In the UK, union renewal is driven by wage disputes

No security at the entrance, an almost empty press room and delegates almost surprised that we are interested in them: organized in Brighton (southeast England) from 18 to 20 October, the annual congress of the British Federation of Trade Unions ( The Trades Union Congress, TUC, which brings together 48 unions and 5.5 million workers) looked sad. The impression is misleading: journalists were stuck in London looking for a government on the verge of imploding – with Prime Minister Liz Truss finally stepping down on 20 October. And above all, the trade unionists were very busy on site preparing the next strikes.

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Because after being crushed almost forty years ago by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, then long marginalized by the media and politicians, the labor movement is raising its head. Membership is increasing, and in recent months layoffs have multiplied in the public and private sectors with an unprecedented frequency. “People are tired, they feel they are being treated unfairly,” says Daisy Carter, 26, a mathematics professor in the south-west of England, ready to go on strike for the first time in her career at the request of the NEU (National Education Union).

Up to 300,000 nurses are also being asked by their main trade union, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), for the first time since its inception in 1916. The midwives’ union, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), is also consulting its members on strike action for the second time since its foundation in 1881. On the transport side, the RMT union has rarely been so mobilized: its members have been on strike since the summer and will go on strike again from 5, 7 and 9 November. The CWU, the Post and Telecommunications Union, has also been coordinating walk-slows since the summer at Royal Mail – another strike is planned for November 12. “Since the start of the action, there have been nineteen days of strike action at Royal Mail. It’s rotating stoppages, one day it’s distribution, the other processing or lorries, because financially we couldn’t do that many strike days in a row,” says Andy Mason, 49, postman and member of the CWU.

An era of austerity

At the heart of the demands are pay rises, while inflation reached 10.1% in September and average wages have stagnated for a decade, a consequence of the era of austerity launched by Cameron’s government in 2010. According to figures from the TUC, between 2008 and 2021, employees in lost an average of 20,000 pounds sterling (about 23,230 euros) and their wages have not increased in line with inflation. Faced with energy prices that have doubled and food prices that have risen 14% over a year, it will be difficult to live decently on these wages. According to the NASUWT, a teachers’ union which, like the NEU, is calling for the strike, 72% of UK teachers have cut their food spending due to the cost of living.

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